Starry, starry night

January 4th, 2018

Isaiah 40:21-31

Do you remember the first time you looked up into the night sky and really noticed the stars? I do. As a college student, I served as a summer missionary in a small church in Lake Tahoe, California. A native of Atlanta, I had never been west of the Mississippi River and had certainly never lived in a small town surrounded by beautiful national forest. Late one evening, some of my fellow missionaries and I walked down to the shore of the lake. We lay on our backs on the dock and looked up into the clear night sky. I was overwhelmed. It seemed as if there were millions of stars above. I never realized how much the city lights had obstructed my view, but that night out in the wilderness I felt I could see forever. I remember being humbled more than anything — by the splendor of God’s creation and by the thought that the creator of all that my eyes could see knew me by name. I can’t read passages about stars without remembering that night. I read about the majesty and glory of God as it is revealed in the night sky, and I remember how it felt that night in Tahoe to sense the awesomeness of God. That sense of wonder has been an important part of my journey of faith because it helps me to keep the right perspective on things, especially when faced with trouble or adversity.

The writer of today’s Old Testament lesson knew how difficult it is to keep the right perspective when faced with life’s challenges. The prophet was writing to the people of Israel after they had experienced a period of judgment and exile from their homeland. He was addressing people who had undergone great trials and adversity. They were so beaten down by life that they had forgotten that God was still with them. They began to question whether God remembered their plight at all. Isaiah knew their situation, and he knew their hearts, and he challenged their forgetfulness. He wrote to the people and asked a crucial question, “Why do you say, O Jacob, / and speak O Israel, / ‘My way is hidden from the LORD / and my right is disregarded by my God?’ (v. 27).” Isaiah knew that God had not forgotten them, and he offered words of comfort and encouragement.

The most important thing for the Israelites to remember was the identity of the God they served. As Christopher R. Seitz so insightfully writes, “The issue is not God’s grasp, but Israel’s weariness and exhaustion” ("The New Interpreter’s Bible," Volume VI [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001], 344). So Isaiah calls to the Israelites and tells them to look up at the stars.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.” (v. 26)

Isaiah knew that the people would regain their perspective on life if they lifted their eyes to the heavens. Remember, Isaiah writes, that our God formed the heavens. Our creator knows the number of the stars in the sky, and calls them each by name. Think about this wondrous truth and sense the awesomeness of God.

If this is the God that you worship, the God that calls each of you by name, can God not help you in your time of struggle? Isaiah 40:28-29 says look at the stars and remember the power and magnificence of the God you serve. “He does not faint or grow weary; / his understanding is unsearchable. / He gives power to the faint, / and strengthens the powerless.”

What a wonderful promise to a people who were discouraged, beaten down and worn out with life—God can be your strength. God gives us what we need when we think we can’t continue on the journey. So today, when you look at the circumstances of your life, what do you see? Are the problems that are facing you so overwhelming that it seems as if there will be no end to the struggle? Do the obstacles in your path prevent you from imagining what might be possible tomorrow? Do you despair of any hope for true healing to take place? Are the wrong choices of the past more than you can overcome? Are you feeling alone and powerless? Isaiah says to us—lift your eyes to the heavens.

The circumstances of your life may indeed be overwhelming. You might in fact be too weary to take another step. The good news is that you don’t have to do it all alone. Isaiah reminds us that it is when we are most helpless, most despairing and at the ends of our ropes, that we are best able to receive the gifts of God. Our God is strong, and mighty, and all-powerful love. God has not forgotten us and never will. Jesus told his own disciples in a time of great anxiety “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

Sometimes when life is at its most difficult, we lose perspective. It’s easy to lose sight of the trees because of the immensity of the forest. That’s when we most need to remember. Look at the world around you and rejoice that the creator of the universe knows your situation. God understands your fears, your hopes, your dreams and your pains. God’s wisdom is unsearchable, and God’s power is unmatched. Remember whose you are, and rest in God’s holy presence. Look up at the stars, and receive the gift of perspective. 

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